Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2020/01/05/wrestle-kingdom-14-day-2-report-tetsuya-naito-crowned-double-champion/
Wrestle Kingdom 14 Day 2 January 5th, 2020
By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this review of day two of Wrestle Kingdom 14, on January 5th, 2020. Day one saw Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi and Kazuchika Okada vs Kota Ibushi gain a lot of praise as they performed in front of 40,008 fans. Will any match on today’s show, which had a live attendance of 30,000, be talked about at a similar level? We shall see.
Pre-show match 1, NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Gauntlet Match: Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano & Togi Makabe (c) vs Robbie Eagles, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii vs BUSHI, Shingo Takagi & EVIL vs Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck Fale vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Taichi
The six-man tag gauntlet has become a recent New Japan tradition and is a useful way of getting names on the card. First up was Bullet Club vs CHAOS. After Fale dominated Eagles this broke down to nice, quick combination offense between the 2 teams before Ishii pinned Owens with a brainbuster. Next out was Suzuki-Gun, with the highlight being a good exchange between Ishii and Taichi although that was hampered a little as it was filmed with Ishii’s back to the camera. This part of the gauntlet ended when Kanemaru and Eagles fought for control which resulted in Eagles rolling up Kanemaru for the pinfall.
The third match of the gauntlet saw LIJ face CHAOS. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any Takagi vs Ishii interactions as Takagi was paired off with Yoshi-Hashi. This match was a series of clashes between pairs as BUSHI and Eagles started off and EVIL and Ishii finished the match. Unfortunately, it appeared that there was a botched referee count or timekeepers call as the bell rang when Ishii kicked out of a Darkness Falls from EVIL. CHAOS was eliminated and LIJ faced the reigning champions of Makabe, Taguchi & Yano. Yano got a near fall before the bell rang with his antics before Shingo took over this match. He had a decent exchange with Makabe before he faced Taguchi in the closing stretch. Taguchi looked like he had the advantage, but Takagi grabbed the referee to give BUSHI an opportunity to spit mist at Taguchi. Takagi immediately followed up with a Made in Japan to win the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championships for LIJ.
This was nothing that you need to go out of your way for, with the best stuff happening when Eagles, Ishii, and Takagi were in the ring. Takagi stood out here with his execution and mannerisms, I hope he gets a much better opportunity at Wrestle Kingdom 15.
Despite promises from the English commentary team of a video package with the 2020 schedule, the video feed cut out and the stream only showed commercials until the main show opening video package. This video package eventually aired after the fifth match.
Match 1, Jushin Thunder Liger retirement match 2: Naoki Sano & Jushin Thunder Liger vs Ryu Lee & Hiromu Takahashi
It says something about New Japan’s priorities that the show opened with the last match of one of their greatest wrestlers of all time. It’s a shame that Liger doesn’t go out with a singles match but the team of the new IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion Takahashi & the renamed Dragon Lee is a great alternative. This is the 2nd time that Takahashi & Lee have been a team since they were paired together in the CMLL Torneo De Parejas Increibles 2015. Ryu Lee wore a Liger mask on his way to the ring as a tribute before holding the ring ropes open for Takahashi. Liger and Sano were accompanied by Yoshiaki Fujiwara.
This match started with Liger & Takahashi locking up before Liger used his signature holds like the rowing boat and the Romero special. Takahashi tagged out, only to turn around and wipe out Sano in order to double team Liger. The younger team picked away at Liger, with Takahashi using the Fujiwara armbar, before he could hit both opponents with tilt a whirl backbreakers and tag in Sano. Sano immediately hit a top rope double dropkick before he engaged in a back and forth exchange with Lee. Liger and Takahashi tagged back in and the rest of the match was between these two. Liger got angry at one point, powerbombing Takahashi and just slapping his prone opponent. There was a fantastic near fall where Liger hit a shotei and a brainbuster. Liger nearly won with a roll up to escape a time bomb, but Takahashi eventually hit the time bomb to win. After the match Lee helped Liger to his feet and bowed to him before Liger gave a heartfelt speech to the fans.
This was a very good match, told at a slower pace to a lot of Takahashi and Lee’s usual fare but with a good story and the crowd firmly behind their departing hero. Liger, who did the bulk of the work for his team, looked strong and gave us a taste of angry Liger one last time. The main thing I would have liked in hindsight would have been Liger to kick out of a time bomb and lose to a second one but, like most of his career, he went out being generous to his opponent.
Match 2, IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match: El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori (c) vs Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh)
The match started quickly with stereo dives from Roppongi 3K and a series of double team moves. The heels took time out on the outside before foul play let them isolate Sho with a combination of flashy moves and back rakes. Phantasmo showed off a series of high flying moves with a sequence of moonsaults, dives, and splashes. Yoh got the hot tag and wiped out both of his opponents with a plancha. Sho tagged in and showed off his power by german suplexing both Phantasmo and Ishimori at the same time. The match started to speed up here with Sho and Phantasmo going back and forth with big moves. The turning point came when Phantasmo punched Sho low only to hurt his hand as Sho was wearing a cup. Ishimori was dispatched with the 3K and Phantasmo took a cross arm piledriver and a dragon suplex. A double stomp shock arrow piledriver was what it took for Roppongi 3K to pin him and become the new IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
This was a quick-paced match with some spectacular moves but in the end, it suffered a little from being more style than substance, although it did add a little variety. Depending on your taste you will either love of hate the low blow spot.
Match 3, British Heavyweight Championship match: Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs SANADA
In New Japan Sabre’s chain wrestling and submission skills are superior to everyone, which makes up for him being one of the most fragile and temperamental competitors in the Heavyweight division. The only exception is SANADA, who is seen as Sabre’s equal.
The match started off at a fast pace as they exchanged a series of arm drags. There was an underlying sense of frustration and anger coming from Sabre at various points in this match. The pair exchanged roll up attempts before SANADA thought he saw the chance to apply the Paradise lock, which was quickly denied by Sabre. The counter exchanges were fast at this point, slowing down when Sabre applied a Japanese stranglehold where both showed off different ways to escape the hold. Sabre’s reactions made this segment work a lot better than it would have done. SANADA showed off some athleticism with a fake dive and Sabre grew more petulant and irate. They exchanged cobra twists and Sabre got caught with a rolling cradle, soon regaining the upper hand by countering a standing moonsault with a double armbar. SANADA soon fought back, even using a nasty dragon screw followed by a plancha. The match then evolved into fighting over signature spots and SANADA’s cold skull submission. A Moonsault press missed, allowing Sabre to hit a penalty kick before a spirited exchange of European uppercuts. After a series of cradles, the match ended with a frantic counter wrestling sequence and Sabre outsmarted SANADA with a pinning combination playing off the finish of their last singles match.
This was very much a technical match based around SANADA being seen as the equal of Sabre. It was hurt to some extent by SANADA being a little slower and less skilled in this style in a couple of places. That said, this match did have a fast pace for most of it and a lot of energy. It was very different from anything else on the 2 Wrestle Kingdom 14 shows and was good but Sabre and SANADA will have many better matches this year.
It should be noted that the New Japan WORLD live stream was frequently disrupted during the 2nd and 3rd matches, with the Amazon Fire Stick app having significant issues. Interesting that there were few issues the previous day but more problems on this show.
Match 4, IWGP US Heavyweight Championship Match: Jon Moxley (c) vs Juice Robinson
This was the third match between Moxley and Robinson in New Japan. Prior to this, they were tied at 1-1, with Moxley winning the US Heavyweight Championship from Robinson on his New Japan debut. Robinson tied the series by beating Moxley in the G1 Climax.
This started with Robinson jumping Moxley with a dive before a brawl outside the ring that featured a cannonball to a seated Moxley. The reigning champion dominated the first part of the match before Robinson fired up, hitting a powerbomb for a near fall. Moxley’s response was a figure four leg lock and a ring post figure four. The match was back and forth in the final stretch, getting very spicy in the last few minutes with vicious strikes that lead to Moxley reversing a Pulp Friction into a Dirty Deeds DDT and then the Death Rider DDT for the win.
After the match, Minoru Suzuki appeared, stripped out of his entrance gear and proceeded to attack Moxley with a Gotch style piledriver before he challenged the American. This was a pleasant surprise as it had felt that Suzuki may have been leaving New Japan.
This match was good, but it didn’t feel as heated as it should have done. I felt that it didn’t have the anger that the feud had been building until the last few minutes. In many ways, it felt a step down from the kind of match that Moxley was able to put on during the G1 Climax. My favorite thing about the match was the post-match appearance of Suzuki, which really woke the crowd up.
Match 5, NEVER Openweight Championship match: KENTA (c) vs Hirooki Goto
Hirooki Goto usually has two peaks in his yearly output, the G1 Climax, and Wrestle Kingdom. This is the first singles encounter between these 2. Goto was the aggressor initially, attacking KENTA before the bell. KENTA soon regained control and spent most of the match bullying Goto and riling up the fans with vicious and vindictive attacks. These attacks were often slow and deliberate, but the pace soon picked up with a big near fall after the Shibata baiting combination of a sleeper and penalty kick was followed by a Busaiku knee kick. Goto fought back as the action got faster and more vicious before Goto managed to win with a fireman’s carry final cut and a GTR to win the NEVER Openweight Championship.
Like a lot of KENTA’s New Japan portfolio, this was fought at a deliberate pace although KENTA is an excellent heel in New Japan and knows how to push the fans buttons. Goto did not have the strongest crowd reaction but they got more into it as the match went along. In the end, this match was quite good, but it was maybe a touch slower and less energetic than the usual Goto Wrestle Kingdom performance due to KENTA’s limitations.
After this match, New Japan announced an updated schedule for 2020. The main news that hadn’t already been released was the dates of the Best of the Super Jr’s Final (June 6th), Dominion (June 14th) and what was happening with G1 Climax 30. That event would have clashed with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which was using both Budokan Hall and Ryogoku Kokugikan. Due to that, New Japan announced that the last 3 dates for the G1 would be in Ryogoku Kokugikan on October 16th, 17th & 18th.
Match 6: Jay White vs Kota Ibushi
I can understand the point of confirming that these wrestlers would be on this show, but the concept of a losers match never really appeals. On paper, it felt like the 3rd place in the Football World Cup. This wooden spoon match is actually a rematch from the 2019 G1-Climax final.
Ibushi initially took the initiative but White soon took over by throwing his opponent around the ringside area. A lovely snap headscissors by Ibushi gave him a chance to get back on an even footing. There was a good sequence of drama and struggle around a cradle tombstone piledriver by Ibushi. This was followed up by Ibushi dominating White with forearms and White struggling to hold on as Ibushi always outmatched him. The Kiwi stopped trying to fight Ibushi head-on, which let White regain control. There was a scary moment when an attempt at a springboard top rope Frankensteiner led to Ibushi landing gut first on the top rope. White capitalized with a crazy looking top rope Uranage suplex. The match continued at a quick pace, much quicker than the White vs Naito match. There were some great sequences such as Ibushi faking White out with a schoolboy into a german suplex when White expected a Boma Ye. Gedo’s attempt to interfere with a chair saw Ibushi no sell a chair shot and low blows before taking out Gedo. Unfortunately, Gedo returned during a second ref bump and hit Ibushi with brass knuckles, allowing White to win with a Blade Runner.
This was a very good match and personally I preferred this match to White vs Naito as the pace was quicker, the match was shorter, and the action was more consistent. White has a good move set but it’s the length and pacing of his matches, along with the constant interference of Gedo, that grates on many fans. Here this was offset by what Ibushi brought to the table and it was my favorite match of the show up to this point.
Match 7: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Chris Jericho
The recent build to this match has teased Tanahashi getting an AEW Heavyweight title match if he wins. Jericho hasn’t won a match in New Japan since beating EVIL in November 2018. This match was set up by Tanahashi saving Okada from a post-match beat down by Jericho at Dominion 2019. If you don’t always watch the opening video packages for New Japan matches then I recommend catching this one just for Tanahashi’s bizarre “Chris Jericho, rockstar” cosplay.
Tanahashi came out to a slightly questionable remix of Go Ace. The match started with both men going through the basics of shoulder tackles and headlocks, with Tanahashi using his speed to gain an advantage. Both men mocked each other repeatedly, with Tanahashi using the one-foot pin, only for Jericho to retaliate when he used a low bridge and his trademark triangle dropkick to send Tanahashi to the outside. A Jericho DDT on a commentary table was enough to turn the tide in the favor of the AEW Champion. Tanahashi managed to get an advantage by using multiple dragon screws and from there the match led to both men using their trademark big moves, with some incredible counters such as a codebreaker to stop a high fly flow from Tanahashi. The New Japan ace returned the favor with a codebreaker of his own as we got a lot of great drama before Jericho rolled through on a high fly flow and made Tanahashi tap out to a Liontamer.
This was a very, very good match. In some ways, it had a slower pace due to Jericho’s age, but both these wrestlers worked incredibly well together. They knew how to combine their work, how to milk the drama and how and when to hit the big moves and counters. There was a lot of pathos for Tanahashi generated by the Walls of Jericho and this was maybe my favorite Jericho match in New Japan, although I’m sure the majority would prefer the Omega match. One interesting detail was that Tanahashi struggled with positioning his left foot on the top rope for the high fly flow, although I don’t know if that was an issue with Tanahashi or with the position of the corner pad.
Match 8, IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Double Championship Match: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
This was the 3rd IWGP Heavyweight Championship match between Naito and Okada at the Tokyo Dome. Okada won both previous encounters, including the 2018 Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event. That match was the last time these 2 faced each other 1 on 1. Both men wore big white entrance jackets and it was clear from the start that the majority in attendance were firmly behind Naito.
This started off tentatively, with both men being careful in locking up but Naito quickly took control. It’s a frequent criticism of Okada that the first half of his matches often feel pointless or aimless, killing time to make the match longer. That was very much not the case here. The opening half was very good as both men kept fighting and struggling to keep or regain momentum, with it shifting multiple times. It felt like this was crucial for both men and they fought for it in a way that made it matter who was on top. Each time someone won control it felt like a big moment or a hard-fought victory.
Okada’s frustrations led to him hitting Naito with a knee crusher on the commentary table, playing into the story form the January 4th match where Naito worked on Naito’s leg. This led to one of the best count out teases in recent New Japan memory, with Naito just getting in the ring before being counted out. Not soon after the action really picked up and the counter sequences started. These were excellent as there was a lot more struggle more than usual with the reversals. There was a sequence where they traded elbows, starting on their knees, and Okada’s facial expressions here were magnificent. I don’t think I’ve been impressed by Okada’s expressions as much as I was here since they told the story of the exchange. The counters continued at a rapid pace and Naito used more and more effort to stay alive, to the extent where he escaped a tombstone but couldn’t follow it up as it took everything he had just to escape. The little energy he had left was used to spit in Okada’s face.
Okada proceeded to snap at that, slamming Naito’s knee into the canvas out of anger and desperation. This actually led to the crowd booing Okada. Like his match the previous night, Okada let out a primal scream when he successfully hit two rainmakers. Naito used that as an opportunity and successfully landed the Stardust press to a ridiculously loud pop in a call back to the Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event, but it wasn’t enough. It looked like Okada had countered a Destino into a sit-out tombstone but Naito managed to find an opportunity to use Gloria before finally beating Okada on the big stage with a Destino.
The crowd came unglued for this and loved it when Naito reeled off his usual spiel. That was undone when KENTA attacked Naito and sat on the new double champion’s chest while holding both belts. Live reports suggest that the live audience wasn’t happy about having their celebrations curtailed but this gave us a new direction as we head into New Year Dash tomorrow.
Honestly, this was my favorite Okada IWGP Heavyweight Championship match for a long time and I personally preferred it to Okada vs Ibushi. This was a fantastic match where the structure of the first half felt like it wasn’t just filler it felt natural when they kicked into high gear. Okada’s facial expressions were great here and it was brilliant to see the attacks on Naito’s knee being used as a sign of Okada’s anger, frustration, and fear. The counter sequences were great, especially when they were more about struggling and fighting rather than just smoothly switching between moves. The crowd built and built, getting more and more behind Naito and this came through in the match, reaching a crescendo when Naito finally won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the Tokyo Dome. I would say that this was my favorite match on both Tokyo Dome shows from this weekend, although I can see why others would prefer Ospreay vs Takahashi or Okada vs Ibushi.
Wrestle Kingdom 14 day two started well with the Liger retirement match but then it lost momentum until the 2nd half of the show. The last three matches were all great for different reasons and the main event was incredible. There was a little more variety on show two compared to show one but show two may have the edge as the low points of the show were a little shorter. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this show and it is well worth going out of your way for, even if you have grown tired of the modern New Japan tropes.